I became curious about the provenance and accuracy of my Turkey Red seed stock last year, and I decided to run a simple test in the Fall of 2015. I had access to three different seed sources, each claiming to be authentic heritage variety Turkey Red wheat. The sources were Heartland Mills, Stephens Land and Cattle, and Ehmke Seed Company.
Heartland Mills has been selling Turkey Red online for a few years now, and a couple of times I have ordered bags of unground whole berries from them. The seed I found in my freezer was a couple of years old, maybe the 2013 crop I'd say. It germinated somewhat weakly, so I think it was at least that old.
Stephens Land and Cattle is a farm in Northwestern Kansas that grows and markets about 200 acres of Turkey Red per season. My seed came by way of Southwestern Wisconsin and was contaminated at some point with about 2% rye. I used the seed I purchased in 2014, and not my own 2015 crop, for the seed source.
Ehmke Seed Company produced certified Turkey Red seed, and I had 20 bushels of it shipped to me in the Fall of 2015. This seed was very interesting to me since Kansas State University had worked on their seed source and carefully rogued and selected the seed stock to match historical descriptions of Turkey Red. This is the seed I planted in 2015, which made up my commercial planting (for sale at AnarchyAcres.com). The 2016 commercial planting was seed that I harvested from the 2015 planting.
Sooooo...the three turkeys were planted in my test plot, hand harvested and shocked, and threshed in my combine. I milled about 5 pounds of each last week in my stone mill, sifted with a 730 micron screen, which yields about 92% extraction for me. There were differences right away--the Heartland had a mild yellow color, distinct from the other two.
Check out also my notes from the harvest. The Stephens showed the most variability, the Heartland was consistently shorter than either the Ehmke or the Stephens, and the Ehmke had the most trouble standing up. Most dramatic was what these three turkeys did not have. In the same test plot, the straw of both samples of Turkey Red from the USDA small grains collection developed a red color about two weeks before harvest. I did not see this red color in any of the three "modern" Turkeys we are concerned with here. Click here or here to see pictures of the red stems before harvest.
The breads were distinct, and the 17 surveys that my testers filled out attest to that. The Ehmke had the best oven spring and the creases expanded completely to make a smooth loaf. The Stephens had the most open crumb, and the Heartland came close to filling in the creases. All three tasted great, although I managed to bungle the bake and the loaves should have baked another five minutes. I actually found the Stephens to have the most interesting flavor (possibly from the rye), but the Ehmke seemed to have the slight edge in favor-ability from the surveyors.
Overall, it was impressive that the different seed sources produced such distinct loaves. These were all planted the same day, on the same plot, harvested the same day, cleaned and milled the same, and baked the same. They produced three different loaves. So which one is the "real" Turkey Red?
Since Turkey Red is a strain of wheat, and technically not a specific variety, it may be correct that all three are Turkey Red wheats. I did not reference the descriptions from JA Clark and similar sources, so I really don't have an informed opinion. I did find more commonality in the field between the Stephens and the Ehmke, especially in stalk height and the appearance of the ear. Ultimately, however, this test has left me with as many questions as answers!
Anybody else want to run this test? I have a few more pounds left that I did not mill yet!